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Tampa Bay’s offensive line will face its toughest challenge of the year in the Washington Football Team’s defensive line

Get ready for an absolute battle in the trenches on Saturday.

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NFL: Carolina Panthers at Washington Football Team
Tampa Bay’s offensive line will have its hands full on Saturday.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Of all the broken records, excellent performances, and points scored in 2020, Tampa Bay’s offensive line may be the one topic that hasn’t been talked about enough.

The Bucs offensive line has performed very, very well in 2020. In fact, it’s one of the best units in team history when you look at the numbers.

Tom Brady was sacked 22 times in 2020, which is the fourth-lowest total in team history and the lowest single-season total since 1982. Per Football Outsiders, Tampa Bay’s marks of 4.60 Adjusted Line Yards, 87.6% in Power Success Rate, and 13.8% in Stuff Rate are all team-bests since 1996 (FO’s metrics only go back to 1996). The offensive line also finished with a 4.3% Adjusted Sack Rate, which is the second-lowest rate since 1996.

Per PFF, Brady has been pressured on just 24% of his dropbacks, which is the fourth-lowest rate in the league. What makes this more impressive is the fact this is happening in a vertical-style offense that takes longer than most for routes to develop downfield. Sure, Brady’s quick release helps, but he’s also not throwing away many balls in order to avoid getting sacked. He’s thrown the ball away just 17 times in 2020 after averaging 31 throwaways a year from 2013-2019.

It’s hard to find many numbers on the stat sheet that reflect negatively upon this offensive line. If you had to point to one glaring stat line, it would have to be the one that shows 53 allowed quarterback hits on the second-most passing attempts in the league.

You never want your quarterback getting hit. In any capacity. Especially a six-time Super Bowl champion that represents your best (and probably only) chance at winning a championship.

Protecting Brady will be the No. 1 item on the docket this week. It should always be the most important priority, but the Bucs will need to put more effort into this week’s game plan because they are going up against the best defensive line they’ve seen all season.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons
Tampa Bay will find itself in a dog fight if it can’t protect Brady against Washington.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

That’s saying a lot when you consider the defenses the Bucs have played in 2020. Teams like the Saints, Rams, Bears, Packers, and even the Giants all have above-average to elite defensive fronts. But in terms of pure talent and production on the defensive line, the Washington Football Team has it all in both quality and quantity.

The Football Team possesses a five-man front of Montez Sweat, Daron Payne, Johnathan Allen, Chase Young, and Ryan Kerrigan. The first four form one of the league’s youngest, most athletic, and most dynamic pass rushes in the NFL. The latter, Kerrigan, has been one of the league’s best defensive ends for the past decade and is still very effective to this day.

And don’t forget about Tim Settle. He has 5.0 sacks on the year and is an effective rotational player.

Bruce Arians didn’t hesitate to praise the Five Horsemen on Monday when asked what he thought of them. “They’re legit. The two kids from Alabama inside and then those two guys – plus Ryan Kerrigan – that’s as good of a five as you’re going to see anywhere,” Arians said Monday. “They’re all young, very active and very athletic. It’s a heck of a building block for Ron [Rivera] right there.”

Per Sports Info Solutions, the Football Team has the third-most combined sacks (33), the third-most total pressures (200), and the most forced fumbles (7) by players listed as either defensive tackle or defensive end. The Football Team also has the second-most Points Saved and the third-best allowed EPA and positive play percentage.

The 200 pressures account for nearly 79% of the team’s total pressure rate. The Eagles and the Browns are the only teams that are better in this regard.

Per SIS, Sweat —the team’s sack leader— has a 13.0% pressure rate on 381 pass rush snaps. That’s the ninth-highest pressure rate among defensive ends with at least 25 pressures on the year and is a better mark than names such as Myles Garrett, Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Yannick Ngakoue, Cameron Heyward, and Olivier Vernon.

According to betonline.ag, the Bucs are currently favored by (-8) to win this game, but make no mistake about it: If they can’t handle the Football Team up front on Saturday, then there may be some very happy fans in Washington by the time the clock reads 00:00.

And just to add some nightmare fuel to the mix, I decided to pick out five of the defensive line’s most dominating sacks from the 2020 regular season:

Everyone talks about Young (and with good reason), but Sweat leads the team in sacks and may actually be better than Young right now. His size, length, and athleticism make him almost impossible to defend at times. He’s No. 90 on the right side of the defensive line. Watch Allen, No. 93, who is next to Sweat, as well. He just drives Carolina’s left guard back into Teddy Bridgewater’s lap.

The Football Team blitzes on this play, but I don’t think it would’ve mattered if they sent only four because Payne (No. 94) smashes through the Cowboys’ double team and gets to Ben DiNucci.

Don’t be surprised if you hear Settle’s name (No. 97) called on Saturday. He’s one of the better rotational guys in the league and he can certainly win his matchups.

Here’s Payne, again. The Football Team’s interior defenders are just as good as their edge rushers. Payne puts an incredible move on Arizona’s guard and flushes Murray out of the pocket. Young’s speed and athleticism allows him to contain Murray for the sack.

And last but certainly not least, this is why I said Kerrigan (No. 91) is one of the best ends of the last decade.